Liberman rules out sitting in government led by Gantz

Former defense minister claims ex-army chief has as much chance of forming coalition as veteran Arab-Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman presents his right-wing party's candidates for the upcoming Knesset elections, during an event in Ashkelon on February 19, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman presents his right-wing party's candidates for the upcoming Knesset elections, during an event in Ashkelon on February 19, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former defense minister and head of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party Avigdor Liberman ruled out the option of sitting in a government led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, whose Israel Resilience party formed an alliance with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid ahead of national elections slated for April 9.

“Benny Gantz has as much chance of forming a government as [Arab-Israeli MK and head of Ta’al] Ahmad Tibi,” Liberman said Saturday at a cultural event in Hadera.

This week, Gantz and Lapid joined their respective parties to form the Blue and White alliance, welcoming former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi into the union, which already includes another ex-army chief, defense minister, and Likud member, Moshe Ya’alon, who leads the Telem party. The inclusion of three IDF generals and ex-military heads at the top of the alliance has been a major point in political commentary and a source of dark humor on social media.

“The generals’ vehicle has fuel until the elections,” Liberman predicted. “Then, it falls apart. There is just no chance I will be joining a government headed by Gantz.

From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Liberman quit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government last November amid accusations the premier was weak on security matters following a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The deal came after a round of violence that threatened to break into all-out war.

Liberman has presented himself as a hawk and a tough guy, painting Netanyahu as a “confused and capitulating” leader whose government has caved to terror.

But the election campaign sees Yisrael Beytenu fighting to stay in Knesset, with polls predicting the party hovering just above the electoral threshold.

On Thursday, television polls indicated the new Blue and White electoral alliance would win more seats than Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, but would still likely struggle to cobble together a governing majority.

According to separate polls aired by channels 12 and 13, Blue and White would win 36 seats in the election, making it the largest party in the 120-member Knesset ahead of Likud.

While Channel 12 news put Likud at 30 seats, close to its current average in polls, Channel 13 news said the right-wing party would drop to 26 seats.

Following Likud in the Channel 12 survey was the Labor Party with eight seats — a slight drop from the bump it saw in polls after its primary earlier this month, but down from the 19 seats it currently holds. Channel 13 gave Labor five seats in what would mark a historic low for the former powerhouse in Israeli politics.

Avi Gabbay, leader of the Labor Party seen during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 13, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Both polls gave United Torah Judaism seven seats, while fellow ultra-Orthodox Shas was forecast to get six by Channel 13 and five by Channel 12.

The New Right, which was founded at the beginning of the election cycle by breakaway Jewish Home ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, would get five seats according to Channel 13, one less than its tally in the Channel 12 survey.

Channel 13 gave the pro-settlement Jewish Home, which reached an agreement Wednesday to run on a joint ticket with the extremist Otzma Yehudit, eight seats, double the total it received in the Channel 12 poll.

Left, Bezalel Smotrich (L) and Rafi Peretz posing after agreeing to form a joint Jewish Home National Union Knesset slate, February 14, 2019. (Courtesy) Right, Otzma Yehudit party chair Michael Ben Ari (R) seen with Itamar Ben Gvir at the party’s inaugural election conference in Petah Tikva, on December 24, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Meanwhile, the left-wing Meretz was forecast by both surveys to win four seats, as was Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would get four seats, according to Channel 12, one less than in the Channel 13 poll.

Though the Arab parties currently in the Knesset had yet to submit their final lists of candidates by the time the surveys were aired, and alliances were still possible, Channel 12 gave the various Arab parties a total of 12 seats, while Channel 13 projected 14.

Neither poll had MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s clearing the threshold after it announced Wednesday it would run alone and not merge with Israel Resilience.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis speaks during an campaign event in Tel Aviv for her Gesher party on February 5, 2019. (Flash90)

Despite outscoring Likud in both polls, the centrist Blue and White would still likely struggle to form a government, with Channel 12 giving right-wing and religious parties 60 seats, and 60 for the center-left and Arab parties. Those totals were 61 seats for the right-wing bloc and 59 for the center-left and Arab parties in the Channel 13 survey.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

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